How can I support my child if they are struggling to manage with the Covid-19 lockdown?

During this time of isolation, children and young people(especially vulnerable children and young people) may feel particularly anxious or stressed due to their new circumstances. Dr Linda Papadopoulos shares advice on how to spot signs of anxiety, depression and mental health concerns.

teenage girl looking stressed


Dr. Linda Papadopoulos

Psychologist and Internet Matters Ambassador
Expert Website

You need to acknowledge when your child is behaving differently. Bad behaviour can often be the result of anxiety – it can come across as being disruptive.
They may often find different ways to express any anxiety they have for example they may suggest they have a sore tummy. A sore tummy is much easier to talk about than sadness. Anything that feels out of the ordinary – you need to watch out for.

  • Talk to your kids about how they’re feeling often and how you’re feeling. You don’t want to overwhelm them with your fears, but you do want to normalise the way they’re feeling.Let them know that when it comes to things that are unknown, it’s ok to feel anxious but reassure them that your family and you’re going to look after each other.
    Remind them that you can do something together as a family.
  • Explain what is happening and try to be honest. Don’t avoid talking to them about it because what children do is, they can start ‘magical thinking’. They think that they are causing things – such as: “This illness must exist because I’ve not been washing my hands properly“. And you really don’t want that.Explain to them in an age-appropriate, non-alarmist way. For example – with a two-year-old, you can explain through ‘sing happy birthday when you wash your hands’. When it’s a 12-year-old, the discussion should have moved on to discussions around the immune system and by the time they’re 15, the conversation should surround not letting emotions get the best of you.Make it age-appropriate and make it honest.
  • Look at where they’re getting their information and make sure they are looking at a reliable source. Have a conversation with your child and suggest if they’re just looking at videos on TikTok for information, point them toward the NHS website or Gov.uk.
  • In addition to looking at the source, make sure you limit exposure to media and how much they’re consuming. Discuss how what they’re seeing, and reading makes them feel!
  • Finally and importantly, routine, routine, routine! This is really important to help give kids the feeling of safety.

Additional signs of stress (by age group):

For younger kids what you’ll find until they are infants or toddlers is that they are more easily distressed, they may pine more or want to be comforted more – that might be an indication.

When they’re a bit older between the ages of 4 – 7 – they might engage in regressive behaviour – so for example, if they’re potty trained they might have little accidents, or they may want to sleep in your bed.

Between the ages of 8 – 11 – there may be more obvious signs of anxiety such as fear or difficulty in concentrating. This may come across as anger as opposed to sadness.

When they are tweens, teenagers – You might see them disengage from you as parents for example if they’re angry, acting out, if everything feels like a big deal and they are having difficulty in regulating their emotions. You may see this Projected on to something else too, for example, they were never worried about homework but suddenly, they’re excessively worried about homework.

What types of conversations should I have with my teen about their online life during the lockdown?

When it comes to teenagers you need to be aware they might be exhibiting signs of stress and anxiety that is different to that of younger kids, for example; if they’re acting out, or they’re behaving recklessly or on the flip side, if they are feeling afraid to leave the house and lose connection.

Be on top of their emotions. Make sure if there are any changes you’re clocking them and you’re talking to them about them. Honest and open communication is key.

Teens will especially want to make sense of all of this, but they’ll be doing that based on what they know for sure and their feelings.
It’s important to separate facts from feelings for example: “I feel I’m in terrible danger” – feelings aren’t facts and the fact is that: “I’m likely not in terrible danger”.

Get them to think cognitively and rationally.
Talk to them about engaging in behaviours that are within their control – substitute worrying with things you can do.

So instead of ruminating on things, encourage them to think about things they can do that are useful, for example, “How can I boost my immune system by eating well or by being clean?” or “How can I boost my mental health by reading outside?”

Finally, with teens – model appropriate behaviour – even though they’re older they will take their cue from you as a parent. If you’ve got a good routine for example or if they see you reading and discussing things that are positive and negative – they’re more likely to do it as well.

More to explore

See more articles and resources to help children stay safe online.

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